Head football coach Jerry Kill has made many friends through his 29 years in the coaching profession. When one of those friends is a Marine who served in Force Recon, the opportunity to have that man speak to his team is one Coach Kill can't pass up.
During his time at Northern Illinois, Coach Kill got to know Lynn Lowder through a mutual friend. Lowder was a Marine for 16 years and was in Force Recon, which is the special operations arm of the Marines. As Lowder put it, his unit was the equivalent to the Navy SEALs and Army Special Forces. Lowder gives motivational/inspirational talks to football teams, Marines and others. He made the trip to the Twin Cities and spoke with the Gophers last Friday.
"I got into the special operations side of the United States Marine Corps, where you work in small teams and cohesion is critical," Lowder said. "So many of the lessons you learn in combat have direct applicability in life and so much of what you do in football has direct applicability to what you do in the military and in combat. There are a lot of parallels."
After spending time talking to groups of football players, Lowder said he determined that the message he can deliver is even more impactful on today's young man.
"Young men today, maybe more than other generations in the past, need male mentoring," Lowder said. "(They need) somebody who can accelerate that learning curve. It's a chance to draw on some experience ... football, the Marine Corps, combat and what that all means in terms of the importance of character on and off the football field and building a quality life. That's the focus of the talks I give to these young men, both in the Marine Corps and around the football world a little bit."
Lowder said he wasn't sure if his message sunk in with the Golden Gophers. But he did like what he saw in his short visit with the team.
"I hope it was well-received," Lowder said of his talk with the squad. "I hope so. There's so much promise in these young men. I've met a lot of very, very fine young up here. There's so much potential. "So many of them need a man they can believe in," Lowder added. "These coaches today have a different challenge than the coaches of my era. In my era, I would respect the coach because he was the head coach. Today, so many of these young men don't trust men in authority and for good reason. Coaches today have the dual challenge of not only coaching, but winning trust, so these young men will give their all."
Part of Lowder's connection with Coach Kill came about because of Northern Illinois. Lowder played there "back in the stone age," as he put it. But he dropped out of school to join the Marines. So, getting a chance to talk to the team at NIU a few years ago and started what has become a strong relationship with Coach Kill and members of his staff.
Now that Coach Kill has moved on to Gold Country, Lowder is more than happy to meet with the head coach's new squad. He believes in what Kill stands for, so he was happy to oblige when he received an invitation to speak with the Gophers.
"Coach Kill is the real deal," Lowder told me. "I mean that in the most sincere way I can. He is guy who believes in doing it the right way, building on a solid foundation. He's also a great life coach. He's a great example. He establishes trust. He establishes unity in the team and fundamental disciplines, both in terms of the position and how you come together. I promise you ... you're going to have a winner up here."
Coach Kill is fond of saying that they won't put his number of wins and losses on his tombstone. But Kill said he believes he'll be judged by the type of young men he turns out of his program. Lowder believes Coach Kill and his staff will be able to mentor many of these young men for a long time.
"These coaches here can be mentors for life for these young men," Lowder said. "We want to turn them out better citizens, better husbands, better sons, better fathers than before they came to the University of Minnesota. We want them coming out better on the back side. Not just in football, but in life."